I am nervous.
I’m walking into an all levels yoga class while traveling in Bali. I look around and see lots of people who look like they were made for yoga—stretchy and limber.
I notice the group is predominantly women. I doubt myself and wonder if I’m “good enough” at yoga to be here.
We all shuffle into the room. I grab a mat and pick a spot toward the back corner.
A fellow 30-something-year-old male sets up next to me.
I feel comforted that we can struggle through this class together.
I see the teacher at the front of the room and he doesn’t look like your “typical yogi.“
He has two blocks, a bolster, a blanket, and a strap, so I go to the cabinets and grab the same. When I get back to my mat, I’m not sure whether to sit or lay down, so I fidget and finally settle into a position propped up on the bolster.
Do I close my eyes now?
I gaze to the front of the room and watch the teacher. I mimic him and spend the next couple minutes with my eyes closed wondering if I am “doing it right.”
I open my eyes slightly to take a peak around.
Many other people seem to be fidgeting. Others are in all sorts of contorted positions. A woman at the front of the room has her feet behind her head and looks like she’s breaking her neck.
I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into.
The teacher turns around to face a deity statue at the front of the room, and softly mumbles something to himself. He lights a stick of incense, sets it on the altar, places his hands together at his heart, and bows while cross-legged, putting his forehead on the ground.
It makes my back hurt just watching.
Then he turns to face the class, closes his eyes again, and seems to levitate. He says nothing. The room starts to settle. He revels in the uncomfortable silence.
His first words are: “Re…lax.” He tells us to breathe, and says we are doing it right just by showing up and trying our best. He says that we are the real teachers and he is just a guide that will offer suggestions throughout the next 90 minutes. He tells us to listen to our bodies.
I’m sweating and I haven’t even moved yet.
Breathe in…breathe out.
We start with three chants of “Om.” On the first one, everyone seems to be finding their singing voices. I can’t seem to exhale any longer. I gasp and inhale. On the second one, the room seems to be finding a groove. The third time sounds like magic and the room resonates as one.
One note. One mind. One breath.
I get the same jittery nerves during every class, nerves that make me feel like I’m walking out on stage to perform—equal parts excitement and dread.
When I start questioning if I’m in the right place, a little voice in my head pipes up to comfort me.
Thankfully, as I’ve started practicing more, the nerves have subsided.
Yoga found me when I needed a practice to help me recover from tough physical days ski patrolling in Colorado, and from the repetitive motions of being a gigging musician night after night.
I’ve gone from being dragged to yoga a couple of times a year by friends, to doing yoga a couple of times a week. My body always feels great afterward, so that’s helping me come around.
A part of the yoga practice that is really expanding for me is the mental game. I realize now that the asanas (poses), are only the surface. Delving into the breath and the mind are where the real transformations happen.
Every class I’ve learned more about not comparing myself to others. It’s been a process. I’ve had to break that workout mentality where I just want to bust it out and be done. How a pose looks for me is not how it will look for someone else.
I used to think props where just there to get in the way. I’d look around frustrated that I couldn’t bend the same way as the person next to me, and I’d push myself too far. I’ve come to learn that the advanced yogi isn’t shy about using props; he adapts or modifies his practice to be in tune with his needs.
I’ve enjoyed having teachers that guide us towards simple poses and variations, rather than only the flashy poses. The simple poses—for me—are usually more effective. A little stretch here, or raising an arm there takes a pose to a new level.
I’m learning to listen to my body more; if it feels good, it’s good—even if it looks different from everyone else in class.
My journey in meditation has evolved a lot too in the last couple of years. I’ve learned to not worry when I’m meditating if thoughts come up. It’s not about “thinking about nothing.” I’m trying my best to just notice my thoughts and not worry if it takes me down a rabbit hole. When I notice that’s where I’ve gone, I just come back to the present moment and start again. I try my best and that is enough. Any moments of transcendence will come when they come.
The purest moments for me happen when I unconsciously stop trying. I don’t try to not try. I just don’t try.
I often flash back to my first few experiences of yoga and remember how out of place I felt. I’m glad I’ve stuck with it. It’s helped me learn about the interconnection of my body. Sometimes the way to target one area is by smoothing out a wrinkle somewhere else.
I’m constantly trying to not take it so seriously. I’m challenging myself to keep my eyes closed for the entire practice. It keeps me from comparing myself to others and it challenges me to focus on my own journey.
Breathe in…breathe out.
Nothing else matters. Right now I am here. Right now I am alive.